‘The people of Denmark are happier than most’
Extract from LoveSexTravelMusik: Stories for the Easyjet Generation
By Rodge Glass
Published by Freight Books
Visitors will find the Tivoli1 easily. This 170-year-old landmark — described on its official website as a unique mix of amusement park, dining area and performance venue — is conveniently situated in Center (the area also known as K, or Indre By) and is clearly signposted on surrounding streets. Tivoli is prominently advertised on the Top Attractions page of visitcopenhagen.com (where you can source things to do under categories like Gay, Climate Friendly and Kids), and also in the many paperback guides available for a price which can surely not be sustained in this age of affordable data roaming. Chances are, the entrance is only ten or fifteen minutes’ walk from your hotel. So get there and get in the queue. It’s very straightforward to find.
What you may find less straightforward is the reason you are in the Tivoli at all. Indeed, even at the moment you suggested a visit to your partner, friends or children, you may have been unable to remember why you chose this place over any other number of attractions in this City of Towers, such as the ruins of Bishop Absalon’s 12th Century Castle, or the ever-popular Carlsberg Brewery. It’s not like you knew the history of the Tivoli. You’re not planning to ride the rollercoaster. Some of the visitors in the queue with you may say they always wanted to come here; others may blame Highlight Syndrome, the phenomenon by which tourists are drawn to already popular sites, creating a self-perpetuating escalation in visitor numbers. Still others may more honestly ask, Isn’t this what everyone does?
Denmark is a land rich in culture and heritage; many believe the site known as København was founded in the late Viking age, so there’s history in these streets. In 1658 the city withstood a furious assault led by the Swedish King Charles X (1622-1660). In 1728 it burned to the ground and had to be completely rebuilt. The same happened in 1795. It’s rarely taught in British schools but Nelson exploded some of Denmark’s finest ships here in 1801, widely considered the famous Admiral’s hardest-fought victory, and in 1807, the British subjected Copenhagen to what many now call the first terror bombardment of a civilian population. And that’s not mentioning defeat by the Prussians in 1864, where Denmark lost one fifth of itself to Prussia — or occupation by the Nazis in more recent times. So Danes are tough, they’ve survived more than a little domination by larger neighbours, and if you reach out to Dr Bo Nielsen, a distinguished local Professor who happens to be walking past the Tivoli at this exact moment, you’ll discover how much you don’t know. Tap him on the shoulder. Ask him to prise open Denmark for you while the queue trickles forward. Bo can reach into cracks in the walls and draw out bunches of flowers. He can make a dish out of nothing. And isn’t that what travel is all about? So fire him a question — what are you interested in? The Royals? Really? Okay, you’re in charge. Whatever’s your thing is our thing too.
Bo will explain that, though not as widely advertised as the British Windsors (who have a bigger budget and PR staff) or Juan Carlos’s increasingly scandal-prone Spanish House of Bourbon, there is a fully functioning, respectable Royal Family here in Denmark, which is one of the oldest in the world. Since 1972 this has been led by Margrethe II (1940 — ), the first Danish Queen since the Act of Succession and subsequent referendum of 1953. She recently celebrated 40 years on the throne by first laying wreaths at her parents’ graves, then riding from her birthplace, Amalienborg Palace, to the Rådhus (City Hall) in a gold carriage, escorted by the Regiment of Garderhusars. There she and other Royals attended a reception in Margrethe’s honour and listened to a series of speeches about how great they all are. But you’re probably not interested in dry constitutional details. If Bo focuses on them too much, ask him for more colour. More humanity. He won’t be offended.
In a patient, clear, lilting accent, Bo will tell you that Margrethe II was raised in Denmark, before spending a year at boarding school in Hampshire and going on to study Prehistoric Archeology at Cambridge University— he’ll tell you she speaks five languages and married a French diplomat. Otherwise, as any specialist will confirm, the Danish Royal family is riddled with Greeks. It’s also related to the Spaniards via their Queen Sofia, a prominent member of the tongue-twisting Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg dynasty. That sounds like a complicated family tree but it’s all one big bowl of royal soup. Despite the French call for Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité! and Robespierre’s guillotine-happy Terror, visitors to Copenhagen will note that over two centuries later, much of Europe’s aristocracy is still alive and as incestuous as ever. It benefits from politicians who make them look positively democratic. Anyway, visit the Palace — as Bo will point out, it’s enjoyable as a visual spectacle even if you’re a republican or some kind of communist.
It also hosts fine examples of Danish Rococo architecture. Ask Bo about that and his eyes will become torches; his wife prefers people to buildings and so he rarely gets the chance to talk on the subject. Once you’ve finished chatting, let Bo go on his way. He’s already late for a meeting and has been too polite to say so.
Step back in line.
The queue has hardly moved. It’s the busiest time of the week and the height of the season, so there’s no point cursing. This was the only week you could get off work anyway — it’s not like there was another option. Perhaps, while you wait to be admitted to Denmark’s No.1 tourist spot, contemplate Bo’s knowledge of his nation and consider what you might learn if you listened to these walls. And what about the others: is the Canadian family of five in the next line having a good time? Are the couple behind arguing? Even here you have to look hardto find anyone who is totally, truly joyful. So visitors toCopenhagen may wish to consider what makes you feel like a child on a swing.
Ahead in the queue, Richard from Johannesburg is gazing through the entrance at the resident Tivoli orchestra, who are playing the theme tune to Disney’s The Little Mermaid. He’s forty-three and not keen on instrumental music, but the notes have become words and now his skin is dancing. Like many visitors to Copenhagen, the imitation Little Mermaid statue in Langelinie2 is Richard’s next stop after here.
Though he’s not aware of Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 fairy tale3, or indeed the opera, and would probably dislike both, the sanitised Disney film is his daughter’s favourite.
He’s not seen her since the start of an access dispute but is planning to email his pictures to California where she now lives with her mother. This will be the start of a bad year — what the French would call a Série Noire— which will end with a conviction for trafficking South African girls to Europe, and bring a speedy end to the access dispute. He might not be a good guy, he might have body odour issues and an online dating profile full of lies, but if you forget the background noise and just look, Richard is simply a man, in the sun, enjoying an innocent sound rising from the bandstand and filling the whole park with colour. Soon the sounds will evaporate, as useless to him and to us as a sword made of sand. But for now Richard is a singing pitchfork. And what’s so wrong with that? You can see demons everywhere in this world, but you’ll never smile in your sleep.
Actually, this wait is ridiculous.
Look to your left. See that door peeping open? That’s a Security entrance. The staff are paid badly and poorly motivated here, so it’s easy to ghost through, and besides, the entrance price is a joke.
Step away from the queue.
Visitors to the city sometimes called Københavnstrup4 will notice as you duck under the Security Only sign and swim towards the crowds that it’s party time in the Tivoli.
It’s always party time! Here, excitement is continuous and consequence-free. There are over twenty restaurants and many bars. The entertainment is world class and it’s all laid out for you: it couldn’t be easier. Perhaps you find it relaxing to watch fish? If so, you can visit the aquarium and follow the feeding timetable: you’ve missed the sharks at 1300 but the seahorses are at 1500, piranhas at 1600 and the octopus, a real favourite with the little ones, is at 1700. After that you can take in a ballet at the Pantomime Theatre or a classical piece at the Concert Hall. It’s Friday, which means Fredagsrock, and the cream of Danish music. All tastes are catered for — but perhaps you’ll get more from your visit if you step away from the crowd. Yes, this way. Behind this bush. Shh. See those two men over there? At the outside tables, the bar next to the ice cream parlour? Come on, come closer. Listen in.
Meet Hans, 29, and Daniel, 27. Hans has been single for five years, and struggling with manic depression for ten. Daniel hasn’t stopped shaking since he left home. He’s been single for five days, since his relationship with Jennifer finally snapped and she returned to her mother, in tears. Both men are drinking cold beers in the sunshine. Both got EasyJet flights for the price of a family meal at the Tivoli, they both came alone, and became friends late last night, meeting at a strip club bar populated by Romanian, Russian and Thai girls who feed off the sex tourists, responsibly wiring money home every month to their families. These girls could have told Hans and Daniel something about sacrifice if only they’d asked a question or two — but they only wanted to talk about themselves.
How women treated them. How they’d given up on love.
How they were here because they’d run out of hope.
Hans and Daniel drank in the club for hours, one eye on the floor show, pouring their lives all over each other. At intervals they tagged, going through to a back room where different girls danced for them. These girls did their standard act, then pulled each man’s head softly to their breasts and listened to them talk. They whispered I love you and rubbed up against their jeans before sending them back to the bar. Later on, their colleagues repeated the process. Hans and Daniel left with empty pockets, having discovered they were currently reading exactly the same book, and had come to this part of Denmark sometimes referred to as Djævleøen (Devil’s Island)5 for the same reason. This was evidence! The fates had brought them together! They resolved to remain friends for life, making their promise at 5.30am on a dark Copenhagen side street. It’s lunchtime now, they haven’t slept, and both men are still drunk.6
If visitors look closely between Hans and Daniel they’ll notice that sitting face-up on their table there’s a copy of the book they were talking about, Affluenza by Oliver James. This edition has a man and a woman on the cover, both elegantly dressed, both standing in a futuristic lift, looking like they’ve lost a bet.7 In the book, the author argues that the more money human beings have, the less happy they are. Brazil, this is true. China, this is true. Australia: absolutely true. In seventeen case studies (some of which Hans skipped — he runs a business and doesn’t have much spare time) James links happiness to earnings, to the GDP of a nation. People in these nations get a pay rise, they get depressed. They buy a big house, they yearn for the cramped terrace they were raised in with their sisters. They win the lottery, they notice old friends acting differently and soon start dreaming of suicide.
But it doesn’t count for everywhere. Nearly, but not quite. Look, visitors to Copenhagen: the exception is all around you. In Denmark, it turns out, people are fairly happy, even though they have the crippling disadvantage of being rich. The book says so. The studies prove it. It’s something to do with equality between the genders and paternity leave or whatever. So visitors might want to change that schedule of theirs and study these streets, the buildings, the laws and regulations of this country that create such a successful blend, instead of standing with all the other moneyed miseries and taking photographs of the Little Mermaid. Hoover up the smell here. Talk to people.
Ask them how they live. This country is more likely to leave you at ease in your own skin. That is, if you leave the Tivoli for a second and go see something real.
For the last eight hours, Hans and Daniel have been touring places they think will make them happy. The Tivoli was supposed to be one of them, and in the haze of the strip club the idea seemed funny — from one extreme to another, no? They got in early, before the queue grew arms and legs. They went on some rides, ate ice cream, saw a show. They laughed for a couple of hours. But now time is treacle, all they can see are ghosts, and discussing the book is making it worse. Daniel in particular is drinking hard, to wipe out Jennifer. Love’s a hard thing to kill. So now, when Hans suggests a visit to Christiania, Copenhagen’s famous free state where marijuana is effectively legal, Daniel agrees. He’s never tried drugs, either hard or soft. He’s a bit of a drugs prude. But, stripped, hollowed and desperate to be someone else, he feels that now, when everything he feared losing has already been lost, he might as well get wasted — if only for something to do, and to escape the couples holding hands here. So Hans and Daniel get up, take the book and begin walking through the Tivoli. Follow them. They’ve no idea where they’re going but who cares?
Affluenza will surely be their guide in this city some call the Queen of the Sea. And it’s not like they’re in a rush. If they’d looked up events in Copenhagen before arriving, Hans and Daniel might had a different adventure.
At this exact moment they’re walking right past a café which does the best schnapps and herring in Denmark, and for a reasonable price too. Only a short walk away is the Literaturhaus, where tonight Carsten will spin golden word webs for an audience who will fly out of the door afterwards, looking at the world anew. Not that Hans and Daniel are into this sort of thing but they could be spontaneous. They could join the tattooed, the pierced and the hooded at an underground electronica club at the next corner, dancing themselves happy till the early hours.
But no, they haven’t got past the obvious. As the two men wander across a road, almost getting run over, Hans says, Maybe we should just throw all our money away. He looks left and right, thinks about which direction to go in, then takes a guess. Slurring his words he says, Then we won’t be rich. And we’ll be happy. How much have you got?
Keep following, visitors to Copenhagen: see how, for a moment, Daniel is unable to answer. Hans might be living off a generous allowance from his father in a tidy apartment in Kreuzberg, but since losing his job, Daniel has been struggling to accept the idea that where he’s from, it’s the excess of money, not the lack of it, that’s the problem. He says, Actually mate, I’m nearly at my overdraft limit. Then, But yeah, why not? Daniel raises both hands in the air, lets out a roar — ON TO CHRISTIANIA! — then falls. Hans drags him up and the two men stagger forwards, singing and linking arms as they walk, bathed in sunshine and, they imagine, the warmth of the Danish people. It might look dirty to you but if you asked both men, at this exact moment, they’d tell you: this is the cleanest they’ve felt in years. Yes, alcohol is a depressant, but it also gifts fleeting moments of joy.
Visitors to Copenhagen will need to keep their distance.
Or else they’ll spot us.
At this exact moment, Hans and Daniel and are only just realising they have come full circle, being almost back at the entrance to the Tivoli. They can see it up ahead. They realise the mistake they’ve made and at the exact same moment they crack up, unable to hold back how absurd this all is. Say what you like about these two but at least they’re able to poke fun at themselves. They can’t stop laughing, in fact. And they instantly give up on the idea of going to Christiania, at least for tonight. Watch them hug and laugh, long and deep. For a while there, before they finally pulled apart, Daniel wondered whether he and his new friend had become one person. Now they’re definitely two people. From where we’re standing, Hans is now slightly in shadow, facing one way, and Daniel has his back to us, facing the other.
This is the beginning of the end for them. After all, in a few days they will want to forget their mistakes here, also their all-night quest, and the best way to do that is silence.
It’ll be easy. They can swap numbers and email addresses, then not use them. But for now they hold themselves together, keep telling themselves they’re doing something worthwhile. As we can see, Hans lights a cigarette, stops a local in the street and asks, Can you recommend a bar where there will be absolutely no tourists? A woman in her forties answers, But if I tell you where it is, there will soon be two tourists there. Why don’t you try the Tivoli? The queue seems to have gone down a little. As the local woman walks away Hans says to Daniel, She seemed cheerful. Maybe we should ask her for the secret. But before they can act, she’s gone, disappeared into the crowd. Hans suggests he and Daniel rest by the entrance a while. All this searching for happiness is exhausting.
If any of the above reminds you of your own life then simply step away. Nobody will blame you. Get back in the queue and have yourself a nice pleasant time — go up and down the rollercoaster, put off admitting the truth and get your picture taken with Pitzi, the Tivoli mascot.
I’ll let you decide whether to stay here or leave: you are in charge of these adventures. If you’re feeling wild you could leave the crowds and head out to Jutland to explore the area around Hald Sø and Dollerup Bakker (Hald Lake and the Dollerup Hills), or go to the stunning Mols Bjerge National Park, right on the nose of Jutland, where you can witness first-hand the rolling hills formed at the end of the last ice age. Hire a bike: ride it. As you can see, cycling is popular here, and some of the cyclists are smiling. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t like physical exercise, there are many other ways to amuse yourself. Georg Carstensen (1812-1857) reminded King Christian VII (1786 — 1848) during his application for the original five year charter to create Tivoli, When the people are amusing themselves, they do not think about politics. But then, maybe some of us don’t need to be distracted any more. The people of Denmark are happier than most. And you could be too, if you listen to the walls.
1 The Danish Tivoli was originally called Tivoli and Vauxhall. It was named after the Jardin de Tivoli in Paris (which was, in turn, named after the Tivoli near Rome), and also the Vauxhall Gardens in London, England. ‘Tivoli Gardens’ is also a term used to refer to a community in Kingston, Jamaica.
2 Sculpted by Edvard Eriksen, this was commissioned by Carl Jacobsen, son of the founder of Carlsberg, after he witnessed The Little Mermaid ballet performed at Copenhagen’s Royal Theatre. The prima ballerina, Ellen Price, modelled for the head of the statue, while the sculptor’s wife, who was prepared to model in the nude, provided the body. The statue in Copenhagen Harbour, which has been defaced many times, has always been a copy. The original is kept at an undisclosed location.
3 The original 1837 story, titled Den Lille Havfrue, features cut out tongues, eternal damnation, betrayal and the little mermaid dancing in excruciating pain: fans of the Disney version wouldn’t recognise it.
4 This is a derogatory nickname used by Danes who are not from Copenhagen. It translates as ‘the little unimportant city of Copenhagen’.
5 This is another derogatory nickname used by some in Jutland for the whole of Zealand, of which Copenhagen is a part. These Jutlanders make no distinction between Copenhagen and the rest of the island, though West Zealand and Copenhagen are very different in nature.
6 There is no point in visitors becoming distracted at this juncture by the Swedish teenager storming past the two men with her headphones in, mascara streaking down her cheeks and pretending to play the drums. She’s wearing full goth uniform and is full up with music: SOME PEOPLE’S LOVE ISN’T STRONG ENOUGH she screams — and given her family background, she does have a point. Her tears are a flood. She has a bruise on her left cheek. She’s run away from parents who are dining at a restaurant in the Tivoli and are done pandering to her tantrums. This girl has never been at ease and she never will be. Look into her future and see that no matter how many people try to help, she will never be reached. She will commit suicide in seven years’ time. She can’t help us in our quest, some people are just doomed I suppose — so why look even for a second? If you offered her a tissue, a hug, some advice, she probably wouldn’t be interested. If you offered her money, she’d reject it. The reality is, some people are just happier being unhappy. Go on, return to Hans and Daniel.
7 Oliver James is a popular psychologist, also the author of They Fuck You Up: How to Survive Family Life (Bloomsbury, 2002), named after the famous opening lines of the Philip Larkin poem. Affluenza: How to Be Successful and Stay Sane (Vermilion, 2007) has since been followed by a sequel to They Fuck You Up, entitled, How Not to Fuck Them Up, (Vermilion, 2011). When Hans becomes a father this time next year, he’ll buy it.
Rodge Glass is originally from Cheshire where he had a Jewish upbringing (of sorts), with a sortie to a Catholic school and some time spent at a Kibbutz in Israel. He then attended Strathclyde University before embarking on the famous M.Litt in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, where he was tutored by James Kelman and Janice Galloway. Glass spent a year back in England before deciding to return to his spiritual home, Glasgow. His first novel, No Fireworks, took three years to write before Faber and Faber published it in 2005.
While studying at Glasgow University Glass became close to one of his tutors, Alasdair Gray, the Scottish writer and artist, and became his assistant. This relationship led to Glass being commissioned by Bloomsbury to write a biography of Gray. He holds a PhD from Glasgow University.
His second novel published Hope for Newborns was published in 2008 with LoveSexTravelMusic published in 2013. He writes book reviews and articles for The Herald and the Scotsman and has written for the Big Issue and City Life magazines in Manchester. He is currently based in Manchester.